Friday, October 24, 2008

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 7

Two movies last night, one funny, one really scary. Let's do this quickly.

The first movie (the funny one) was about a guy named Ryan. It was called "Hi, My Name is Ryan". Ryan Avery is a pudgy, hormonally unbalanced kid from Phoenix. He's also one of the strangest creative artists in Phoenix. He fronts several varieties of punk bands/performance art troupes. He's a comedian, a milk and cookies connoisseur, a fake mustache fanatic, a helmet fanatic, a photobooth artist/model, and...he could be just about whatever. His bands are often angry punk noise, but from a funny side, like Father's Day, where he and three friends perform as stereotypical bad fathers (his family life and trauma is touched on, but exactly how dark it goes is uncertain). He often takes pride in pissing off/confusing his audience, breaking shit, and being more punk than the "real" punk rockers, all the while with a cherubic big baby face that makes it impossible to take seriously. At the same time, he did the incredibly confessional solo projects Silverchair, which morphed into Hi My Name is Ryan. And two years ago she stopped it all to go on a mission to Portland for his Mormon Church. Just another little conflicting bit of information to try to understand about this odd guy. But I can totally respect (and relate to) how he doesn't enforce any sort of arbitrary consistency on his life/performances/interests. If you can't understand how he can be a punk rocker and a Mormon missionary, that's your problem, not his.

Now this movie could be like any of a number of documentaries about eccentrics--interviews with friends and the subject followed by footage of performances. But this movie has one thing that makes it really pop like none other. Not just a solid protagonist, it has a bona fide antagonist. Wayne Michael Reich is an established "serious" artist on the Phoenix scene, and has run into Ryan on several occasions. Ryan's punk performances (in the group Night Wolf), have disrupted Wayne's shows on multiple occasions, and he has no patience for the "no-talent idiot" and his cronies. Wayne is on camera extensively bitching about Ryan, and looks like a conceited redneck David Cross (seriously, if this wasn't a documentary festival, I'd believe David Cross is pulling a joke on us all). He makes an excellent villain, and makes this an excellent, hilarious film.

Not so hilarious was "Silhouette City", a meditation on the rise of the religious right in America. From survivalist camps in the 70's to a modern stranglehold on the Republican party, the "end times" believers have moved from a fringe group that is mocked (if thought of at all) to a driving force in public policy (not that I'm anti-Israel, but it's frightening to see how many right-wingers are pro-Israel because they believe a Jewish state in Israel is a pre-condition to the second coming of Jesus). The movie uses a combination of archival footage, propaganda material, and interviews to...scare the ever-loving crap out of me. Yeah, I know and fear James Dobson (Focus on the Family), Ted Haggard (preach about Jesus and then sneak off to do meth with gay hookers), and the like. But 90 minutes of seeing them all together and pulling the controls of power is frightening. Now I call this movie a "meditation" because it presents stories, images, even statistics in a melodic, meandering way with no narration or a protagonist voice. I don't want to say it doesn't have a point of view (it definitely does, and it's anti-extremist), but it doesn't have a sense of someone asking a question and looking for an answer, if that makes any sense (maybe I was just tired when I saw it). I think that would have helped me to relate to it a lot more. There was a very interesting guy speaking near the end of the movie (and I apologize for not remembering his name), but he spoke about how something like 40 years ago his divinity teacher (at Harvard?) warned the class that a top threat in the coming century is the rise of religious fascism (and as a survivor of Germany in the 30's, he didn't throw words like "fascism" around lightly). This guy was a practicing, devoted Christian, and was afraid of what the political face of his religion was doing. That's the sort of character who would make an excellent protagonist for the movie (basically I wanted to hear more from him and see less of James Dobson).

And that's day 7. Tonight I might make it up for Melody Gilbert's fantastic movie "Whole" (which I saw at Indiefest a few years back, and I recommend all my SF readers go see). But then I've got a Scotchtoberfest party tonight, so I'll be drinking fine Scotch instead of watching movies most of the night.

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